How to find a family video song

17 May 2023

I am deep in the editing process for the second Annie in April video, and thought it might be fun to dive into a bit of a niche topic today: how to find the right song for a family video! I’ve heard from several of you over the years who’ve been inspired to try your hand at a family video, or even a series of videos, after seeing ours, and that just tickles me. It’s really not hard, and the reward is so sweet.

I’ve shared my step-by-step process for editing a family video before – and have edited more than a dozen yearly videos of our kids so far myself – but there’s one key step that still always feels like a big hurdle: choosing the perfect song. It feels daunting because the song sets the video’s tone; also, whatever I choose will become a part of our family’s shared history. I need something that captures the feel of the footage and the personality of our child in that particular season, something that won’t feel dated and that I won’t regret using in two years. It’s a tall order!

I’ve compiled a few best practices over the years for finding great songs for family videos and am happy to share them with you here, plus a list of the songs we’ve used so far for our videos and a few that I’ve already marked as potential songs for future videos.

Tips for Finding the Right Family Video Song

1. Keep a running list

If all goes according to plan, I will have created 54 yearly videos for our kids by the time all three reach 18 (!). That is A LOT of just-right songs to find! Therefore, I am always on the hunt for our next movie’s soundtrack. I use a Spotify playlist to store any and every potential song I come across, and I add to it regularly (it currently contains 114 songs).

Where do I find songs to add? Everywhere! My best sources are often songs that have already been used in videos: I’ve found great songs used in Reels, TV shows, movies, wedding films, and other family videos I’ve come across. It makes sense: someone else already thought the song had the right dynamic, atmospheric, pleasant qualities to carry a video, so it makes sense that I would, too.

Another surprising place I’ve found songs: stores! Their playlists tend to be upbeat with good movement, which is often what I’m looking for in our video songs. If I don’t know the song, I just use the Shazam app on my phone to get its info.

Now that I’ve been making and sharing videos for years, friends and family have also become good sources of songs! My sister actually suggested a song a few months ago that I already have slotted for Annie’s two-year video :)

Finally, one of my best sources of potential songs is Spotify itself – it’s one place where I don’t mind the algorithm figuring me out at all. In addition to my list of potential songs, I also have a playlist where I add each song I actually use in a video. These songs obviously share some characteristics (something attracted me to them, after all), and so they’re a great jumping off point for Spotify to make recommendations of other similar songs – which they do, right beneath the playlists themselves (just scroll down past your last song!).

2. Get clear on your goals.

Okay – thanks to your sleuthing and saving, you’ve got a trove of songs to choose from for your next video. As you narrow your options down to the one perfect song for this video, hone in on the feeling you want to create.

What will match the tone of the footage you’ve captured? What might fit the age, mood, and season of life your child is in? (Do you have a sweet baby, a silly toddler, or an active elementary schooler?) What do you hope to convey, capture, and remember from this time, and how can the beat, feel, and instrumentation of your video song choice augment this?

It might take some searching, but you’ll know the perfect choice when you hear it.

3 Double-check the fit.

Once I’ve zeroed in on my ideal song choice, I run it through a few filters before downloading it for the editing process. (I always buy my songs from iTunes.) My filters include:

  • Is it a male or female vocalist? The answer will influence the feel, and depending on whether the video is for our son or one of our daughters, this might matter to me.
  • Is it the right length? I aim for our yearly videos to be between 2:30 and 3:30. If a song is significantly longer, it’s often possible to fade it out once you’ve reached your desired length, but it’s something to consider.
  • Do the lyrics check out? Since I’m not commissioning a custom song, I expect that the lyrics will not perfectly match my child’s biography. However, if the lyrics are clearly talking about a boy when the video is for a girl, it might not be the right fit. Same goes for lyrics that involve a romantic relationship, and of course anything that might not be appropriate for a child – but those usually don’t make it past the second step.
  • What is the profile of the song? Is it really well-known? It is currently popular? Is it obscure? Is it a very specific genre? Is it an oldie? None of these are dealbreakers for me, but they are things I consider. I have to listen to the song many times over in the editing process and for years afterward, and I want to love it for a long time!

Great Songs for Family Videos

To get you started, I’ve compiled a list of all the past songs I’ve used for family videos (along with a few stories about how they crossed my path!).

Songs We’ve Already Used in Family Videos:

  • “(Love is Like a) Heat Wave” by Martha Reeves & The Vandellas | Baby girl, as seen here
  • “Porcelain Doll” by Chatham County Line | Baby girl (I knew as soon as I heard this song, several years before I had kids, that I’d want to use it in a video someday! It’s the very sweetest – and played by NC hometown heroes :))
  • “Come Go With Me” by The Del-Vikings | One-year-old boy, as seen here
  • “Little Bitty Pretty One” by Thurston Harris and The Sharps | One-year-old girl, as seen here (To me, this is about as perfect as a family video song gets – so spirited and fun.)
  • “Sugar Dumpling” by Sam Cooke | One-year-old girl (Lisa used this one in a Story for her sweet baby and I knew it would be perfect for Annie’s latest video!)
  • “Life is Rosy” by Jess Penner | Two-year-old girl, as seen here
  • “Comeback Kid (That’s My Dog)” by Brett Dennen | Two-year-old boy, as seen here (I found this song in an episode of the TV show Royal Pains :))
  • “Sunny Day” by Joy Williams | Three-year-old girl, as seen here (This sounds crazy, but I found this song on a billboard while driving through Nashville!)
  • “The Sound of Sunshine” by Michael Franti & Spearhead | Three-year-old boy, as seen here (I remember it took me SO LONG to settle on this song – I find it generally harder to find boy songs – but now it seems like an obvious and perfect choice.)
  • “Whole Wide World” by Mindy Gledhill | Four-year-old girl, as seen here
  • “Love You So” by The King Khan & BBQ Show | Four-year-old boy
  • “Count on Me” by Bruno Mars | Five-year-old girl, as seen here (June’s class sang this at her preschool graduation the year we filmed this video, so it seemed like an appropriate choice. It turned out to be quite challenging to edit to!)
  • “Something That I Want” by Grace Potter | Six-year-old girl (This is the song in the closing credits of Tangled; June and I both fell in love with it when it came on at the end of the movie.)

A Few Songs I’ve Bookmarked for Future Family Videos:

I can’t give away all my secrets, but here are a few I’ve bookmarked…

  • “American Girl” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
  • “Better Place” by Rachel Platten
  • “Dance With Me Tonight” by Olly Murs
  • “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” by Peter, Paul, and Mary
  • “Do You Believe in Magic?” by The Lovin’ Spoonful
  • “Easier and Harder” by William Prince
  • “5 Years Time” by Noah and the Whale
  • “Here Comes My Baby” by Cat Stevens
  • “How Long Will I Love You” by Jon Boden, Sam Sweeney, Ben Coleman
  • “I Make My Own Sunshine” by Alyssa Bonagura
  • “I’m Into Something Good” by The Bird and the Bee
  • “It’s a Lovely Day Today” by Ella Fitzgerald
  • “Just a Little While” by The 502s
  • “Let Her Dance” by The Bobby Fuller Four
  • “The Lotto” by Ingrid Michaelson and AJR
  • “Little Bit More” by Suriel Hess
  • “Little Bitta You” by Andrew & Polly
  • “Love You More” by Caspar Babypants
  • “Make Your Own Kind of Music” by Cass Elliot
  • “Mama’s Sunshine, Daddy’s Rain” by Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors
  • “Morningbird” by Forest Sun
  • “Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra
  • “Nobody But Me” by The Human Beinz
  • “She’s a Rainbow” by The Rolling Stones
  • “She Lit a Fire” by Lord Huron
  • “Summer Holiday” by Cliff Richard & The Shadows
  • “This Life” by Vampire Weekend
  • “Unconditional I (Lookout Kid)” by The Arcade Fire
  • “You Make Me Happy” by My Sun and Stars

As I said, I know this is a bit of a niche post, but I hope it might help a few of you with your future memory-keeping! :) Now back to iMovie editing…

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May 17, 2023 8:23 am

We do annual Family Summer videos. I love this post with suggestions. Thank you!

May 17, 2023 10:17 am

Prompted by your Nashville billboard story: One of my favorite things about you is how observant you are! You always inspire me to be curious!

May 17, 2023 10:56 am

I am tickled that you found a song from me because 1. no one has sought song recommendations from me since about 2009, and 2. that song is one of my most-sung! Such a sweet one!!

May 17, 2023 12:30 pm

How fun! Would you mind sharing your spotify profile (link?) so that we could grab some of these great playlists? This music is right up my alley!

May 19, 2023 8:42 am
Reply to  Katrina

Yes! I was going to ask the same thing. This is the sort of music I listen to while I work.

May 17, 2023 11:07 pm

This post is so timely!! Just today I was bookmarking a song on Spotify as a potential option for our first ever summer break movie! I know I‘m going to refer back to your how-to post.

May 18, 2023 2:30 pm

Always love your intentionality in everything :-)

May 23, 2023 10:33 am

Aww this is a great post. Thanks, Emily! Our girl turns one this week (!!!) and I hope to create a video from photos/videos from this past December. I don’t want this song (or future December songs) to feel too holiday-ish, even though that’s what most of our month consists of! We’ll see :)